The Government’s Plan to Police Newsrooms


America’s news stations are so bad that the government needs to step in and make sure Americans get the news they need. Before February 21, this was the position of the Obama administration. That was when the Federal Communications Commission (fcc) came under intense criticism for its plan to put government observers into radio stations, television and even newspaper newsrooms to make sure Americans were getting the “critical news.”

The fcc said it wanted to examine “the process by which stories are selected,” how well stations cover “critical information needs,” if there is “perceived station bias” and how responsive stations are to “underserved” minority populations.

Ajit Pai, a commissioner with the fcc and now a whistle-blower, warned in the Wall Street Journal that the plan involved grilling “reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run” (February 10). Pai questioned whether it was a thinly veiled effort to wade into office politics, look for angry reporters whose story ideas were rejected, and use this as evidence of wrongdoing and conspiracy in the media. The concern was that this “evidence” would then be used as blunt-force weapon to coerce media outlets into “voluntarily” complying with how the political appointees at the fcc thinks news stories should be covered.

Since the fcc determines whether or not television and radio get licenses, “voluntary” isn’t really voluntary.

Pai compared this move to the now-abandoned “fairness doctrine” by which the government decided whether or not radio station programming was politically balanced and fair. If a station wasn’t considered “fair,” its license was revoked and given to someone else.

Former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano called the fcc plan “a radical new era of tyranny for the White House.” National Reviewcompared it to the irs scandal by which the agency targeted Tea Party and conservative groups.

America’s Founders knew the importance of the freedom of the press, and guaranteed it with the First Amendment. But that provision was meant to secure the liberty not only of the media—but also of the country. America’s founders knew that a free press was a check on totalitarianism because it holds leaders accountable to the people they represent. As long as the press is free and individuals are allowed to express their views, it is a check on government.

Due to the uproar, the fcc plan was postponed on February 21. But the fact that the fcc even considered putting government observers in newsrooms says a lot about the administration, its regard for the Constitution, and its motives.